I often talk to artists and writers about the biggest frustrations in their creative lives. One of the themes that almost always emerges is a lack of time. Despite having access to devices and technology that are supposed to save time, most people feel busier than ever.
Do you feel this way? I do sometimes!
There are lots of ways to make better use of your time and be more productive. (A great place to start is the Productivityist site, as well as my friend Jim Woods’ book Ready Aim Fire! A Practical Guide to Setting and Achieving Goals.) But if you want to make more time for your art, you must first see where your time is going.
The best way to get an accurate picture of your time use is by keeping a time log. In this post, I’ll explain why it’s important, a simple way to do it, and even give you a handy time log.
Why keep a time log?
We tend to go about our days unaware of how we really spend our time. How often have you taken just a “few minutes” to check email, only to look at the clock and discover that two hours have gone by (and you still haven’t finished!)?
A temptation I seem to battle all the time is getting on social media for “just a few minutes.” Then I’ll look and see that an hour has gone by.
When you keep a time log, you can immediately see where your time is going. A time log gives you the big picture of your time use–a picture you can’t get in the day-to-day business of life. If you’re like me, you will probably be surprised that you’re spending a lot of time on tasks that aren’t very productive. We all assume we’re being productive, but when you record it, it’s there in black and white.
How to keep a time log
You can keep a time log with pen and paper, or use an app on your computer or phone. Personally, I prefer pen and paper because it’s more tactile. (If you would rather use an app, check out Toggl.)
I recommend keeping track of your time in 15-minute increments for two weeks. I know that sounds like a hassle, but trust me, it’s worth the effort because you’ll clearly see where your time is going.
Why two weeks instead of one? Because any given week can be an anomaly. When you track your time for two weeks, you’re more likely to get a better overall picture of an average week.
After you have tracked your time for one week, go through the sheet and divide up your time into categories that are helpful for you. When I did this exercise a few months ago, I used four categories: work (my job), business (for my side business), church, and personal. Then list how much time you have spent in each category. Repeat this exercise for the second week.
After you have reflected on the amount of time you’ve spent in each category, respond to the items in the “Notes” section:
• Observations about my week. What was surprising? Disappointing? Enlightening?
• Questions I need to ask. Some examples: Why do I spend so much time playing games? Why do I constantly overcommit? Why do I feel so busy but am not accomplishing as much as I’d like? (Your questions will be different … these are some I’ve asked myself!)
• Action steps I need to take. Based on your observations, what do you need to change about your commitments or use of time?
Take action on the results
After tracking your time for two weeks, you will probably be surprised at where your time is going. For instance, the last time I did this exercise, I made several shocking discoveries:
• I was spending over ten hours a week on a side job that was bringing in very little money.
• I was only sleeping 6.75 hours per night. That’s less than the recommended amount for adults.
• I wasn’t spending very focused time on my writing. That explained my lack of results!
As a direct result of tracking my time, I resigned from the side job within a few weeks. This freed up a huge chunk of time each week that I could now devote to writing or other more productive pursuits. I also adjusted my sleep habits and started to go to bed a little earlier.
Time is a limited resource, and we must use it wisely. But to do that, we must first see where it is going. Keeping a time log will help you get an accurate picture of your time usage, and will spur you to make helpful changes.
The end result? You will be better equipped to make more time for your art.
Have you ever used a time log? If so, what did you learn about yourself?
Previously published on KentSanders.net
Photo: Getty Images